june 8 feature

This Day in History – June 8th – Hijinx, Humor, and Insight

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NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.

You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.

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THIS DAY IN HISTORY… JUNE 8

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1967 – USS Liberty attacked.

The US communications ship was attacked by Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats. 34 Americans were killed and 171 wounded. The ship had been under surveillance by Israeli forces for nine hours before the attack. The attack took place during the Six-Day War, and Israel has always maintained that it was a case of mistaken identity. They thought it was an Egyptian transport ship. This despite the facts that the Liberty was sailing in international waters, flying the American flag, and was twice the size of the transport ship. The attack came in two assaults. Over 30 sorties were flown by as many as a dozen planes firing cannons and rockets, followed by boats launching torpedoes into the Liberty’s hull and then machine gunning those trying to fight the fires, and even firing on lifeboats launched to help the wounded.

Those aboard the ship and many in the Navy are convinced the attack was deliberate. The resulting investigations were conducted in a way to clear Israel. Pressure was put on President Johnson and Congress to protect the alliance between the two nations by sweeping the incident under the rug. The Liberty was a lightly armed ship with only four 50-caliber machine gun mounts. It was a communications ship, or as some could view it, a spy ship. Their mission was to monitor Egyptian and Russian communications in order to assist Israel if necessary. Some maintain that Israel thought their own communications were being monitored and took exception, and this provoked the attack.

Another puzzling aspect was that the Liberty was left defenseless by the U.S. Navy. The captain had requested a destroyer escort but that request had been denied. He was told that if he got into trouble jets from the 6th Fleet could reach him in ten minutes. The Liberty did radio for help, the fighter jets were scrambled, and then recalled. The thought of Israeli and American jets dueling over the Mediterranean was too unsettling. According to Consortium News: “Chief Petty Officer J.Q. ‘Tony’ Hart, who monitored conversations between then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Sixth Fleet Carrier Division Commander Rear Admiral Lawrence Geis, reported McNamara’s instructive reply to Geis, who had protested the order to recall the U.S. warplanes on their way to engage those attacking the Liberty. McNamara: ‘President Johnson is not going to go to war or embarrass an American ally (sic) over a few sailors.’”

The Vietnam War was also going on at this time with several hundred soldiers being killed each week so apparently a handful of Naval fatalities wasn’t that big a deal.

No defensive action, no retaliation, slipshod inquiry, and after the initial reporting, no in-depth press coverage, as if even that was suppressed.

I was standing in line one day, waiting not so patiently to enter the chow hall. I was surrounded by other sailors, most of whom, given the complaining going on, were not happy with their current existence. I was aware that my life at the moment was not normal. For one thing I had pretty much relinquished control over which direction it would take. The Navy had chosen to train me to be a radioman, and there was a fair amount of time and money being put into that effort. It occurred to me at the time that a payback would be expected. There were dozens and dozens of training facilities throughout the nation producing whatever the Navy needed. It was like a massive assembly line and they just kept churning us out, filling that need. Then a different, even silly, imagery took hold. That of a shooting gallery. Every carnival or arcade in those days had one. Little yellow ducks on a conveyor passing left to right before a shooter with an air rifle. When the shooter was on target the little yellow duck would be plunked over. For the term of our enlistments, that’s all I and all the sailors surrounding me were, little ducks. I just had to hope there would be no shooting going on while I took my turn on the conveyor line.

A cartoonish application for a serious matter, I know, but hey, I was eighteen. I got lucky and there were no paying customers during my time on the conveyor. The sailors aboard the USS Liberty were not so lucky. They were killed, wounded, and traumatized, abandoned at the time of the attack and conveniently forgotten afterwards.

At the time I was very interested, and aghast, over the attack, and then puzzled at how quickly it passed through the news cycle and nothing more was heard. From the books I’ve read on the subject, I’m convinced the attack was knowing and deliberate. Why, I’m not sure. Maybe some rogue elements within the Israeli military. And since no real investigation was ever done, those elements were protected rather than exposed. Higher priorities were at stake and a real life deadly shooting gallery did not matter. As in most conflicts, those doing the dying were not the main issue. My immature imagery in chow line that day was not so far off.

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Birthdays:

1831 – Thomas Higgins. Medal of Honor winner.

He was a flag bearer in a Union assault on the Confederate ramparts at Vicksburg. A massive volley decimated the Union ranks. As the smoke cleared only one man, Higgins, carrying the Union colors, marched forward alone. A hundred Rebel rifles were leveled at him. They fired, and somehow, miraculously, all missed. Higgins continued forward. And then an amazing thing happened. The Rebels, in awe, stopped shooting, and a loud cheer rose from their ranks. He reached the enemy’s position, was captured, and welcomed with handshakes. It was partly at their insistence that he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Higgins was later paroled back to the Union Army and he survived the war.

Unlike those aboard the Liberty, Higgins’s valor was recognized.

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One event and one birthday are enough for today.

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ABOUT GARY JENNEKE

At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.

You can reach him at gary@newswhistle.com.

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CREDITS

The above information was sourced from the following sites and newspapers.

Sources:

USS Liberty – Consortium NewsGTR5.com

Thomas Higgins – CivilWarTalk.com

OnThisDay.com

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We’d like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:

* Lead-In Image (Military Salute) – AnnHirna / Shutterstock.com

* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com

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OTHER DAYS IN HISTORY …

December 2

* December 5

* December 9

December 11

December 12

* December 15

December 16

December 18 

December 22

December 23

December 24

December 28

* December 30

* January 3

January 4

January 6

January 7

January 10

* January 11

* January 14

January 15

January 16

January 19

January 21

January 22

January 24

January 25

January 29

January 30

February 1

February 3 

February 5

February 6

* February 9

* February 10

* February 11

February 14

February 15

February 18

February 20

February 21

February 24

February 25

February 28

March 2

March 3

March 6

March 9

March 10

March 12

* March 14

March 16

March 17

March 19

March 20

March 21

March 23

March 26

March 27

March 29

March 31

April 2

April 3

April 6

April 7

April 11

* April 12

April 13

April 18

April 19

April 22

April 23

April 25

April 28

April 29

May 2

May 3

* May 4

May 6

May 8

May 9

May 10

May 13

* May 17

May 18

May 19

May 23

* May 24

May 26

* May 28

May 29

June 1

June 2

June 3

June 10

June 13

June 17

June 18

June 21

June 24

June 28

June 29

July 2

July 3

* July 9

July 13

July 15

July 19

July 23

July 25

July 30

July 31

* August 3

August 7

August 10

August 11

August 16

August 17

August 21

August 24

August 25

* August 28

August 31

September 2

September 5

September 6

September 8

September 11

September 12

September 15

September 16 

September 17

September 21

September 23

September 24

September 25

September 28

September 30

October 1

October 3

October 7

October 10

October 12

October 14

* October 16

October 18

October 24

October 25

October 27

October 28

October 30

November 3

* November 4

November 5

November 8

November 9

November 10

November 13

November 14

November 16

* November 17

November 19

November 20

November 23

November 28

November 30

* Stay tuned for more!

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